Mar 8, 2012

Yumi, Kony & Misplaced Rage

My friend Dan falls into spells of inexplicable rage at the moment.

"For no real reason," he confessed to me on Wednesday afternoon. "I was doing something in the kitchen the other day, and I just got furious about the idea of a merciful God. If a real person behaved like that guy, they'd be locked up as a psychopath."

Now Dan co-hosts a science and skeptics podcast, so I guess it's a hazard of his job to become occasionally infuriated by immaculate misconceptions.

But as I emerged briefly from my state election bubble on Wednesday evening, I became aware of two current (.... events? Issues? Memes?... let's just go with) things... that seemed to reflect Dan's experience of misplaced rage on a national, and an international scale.

The first was the online destruct-a-thon of Channel Ten presenter Yumi Stynes, over comments she made about Australian Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith.

I knew something controversial had happened on morning chat show The Circle, but wasn't really aware until now of the vitriol hurled at Stynes. The wonderful Heathen Scripture has a great piece on it, and the acerbic John Birmingham is spot on as usual at Brisbane Times.

What Stynes (and let's not forget, George Negus) said was inappropriate and insensitive. But the level of pure bile and personal abuse spreading across social media, online forums and the dreaded comment sections did seem far in excess of justified, stern criticism.

I was going to put it down to simple internet trolling, but then I saw the Twitter hashtag #Kony2012, and eventually got the chance to watch the associated film.

Produced by the charity Invisible Children, this film is an inspirational way to spend 30 minutes of your time. It chronicles the charity's fight to bring Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony to justice for his truly evil crimes against humanity. The group is advocating a worldwide protest on April 20, to cover your local streets with posters and flyers of Kony, in order to "make him famous". The aim is to keep American military advisers in Uganda, to help the local army finally track Kony down and capture him.

The documentary is bold, it's beautiful, it pulls all the right emotional strings. The existence of child soldiers is truly one of the most abhorrent and perverted phenomena of our time. There is nothing to redeem Kony; he is a monster who deserves his number one ranking on the International Criminal Court's hit list.

And so the online world has exploded in fury that he continues to walk free, and the video has been shared at a rapid pace.

We are angry. And it feels good to be angry, particularly when somebody truly deserves it.

It's good to have a bad guy. A bad guy we could conceivably track down. A bad guy who doesn't force us to question our own role in his creation, a la Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. Joseph Kony is an ideal supervillain.

And so our anger is funnelled there, even when it's potentially questionable, because we feel useful. We can wear bracelets, put up flyers, post photos on Facebook (even though the site has blocked a dissenting critique of the Tony 2012 campaign as "spam").  It's rock-star activism. We can turn our rage into action.

It is a good thing that social media can educate us all about the existence of people like Kony, but the reality is that his removal from the battlefield will not end the problems in Uganda. I wish I had answers, but I don't. The country, like many others in Africa, is still struggling with issues that took root decades ago. And once Kony is arrested, how much will the bracelet-wearers do to help those left behind? I hope for the best; but the cynic in me is not convinced.

Foreign policy and international conflicts are rarely simple. But complex is hard to fit into 140 characters. And right now, we need a target for our rage.

There's something about us humans right now that has us mad as hell, and not willing to take it anymore. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements of 2011 demonstrated this. Even the Gillard government's fresh attack on Australian billionaires reflects this. People are not happy with the status quo. We're sick of the bad guys, we seem to be frustrated that we're in the 21st century but are still waiting for the enlightened Age of Aquarius (in whatever sense you define 'enlightened'). Diplomatic talk doesn't seem to have gotten us anywhere. And frankly, it's boring, and takes forever.

So it's good to have a real villain like Kony, someone who deserves to bear the brunt of our all-encompassing rage. It's "good" trolling.

But in his absence we can always get riled up at faux-villains like Yumi Stynes. And my fear is one day we might forget the difference.


  1. Well said Nat. Its as if we can't be annoyed, frustrated, miffed or upset anymore, we just go straight to rage or outrage and stay there.

  2. The comments were more than insensitive, they were stupid, puerile and showed more than anything a huge lack of respect to a true Australian hero.

    The fact that she still has a job, shows she got off VERY VERY lightly.

    Bring on the outrage bus, I have a weekly ticket over this one.

  3. It takes a lot to get me angry or riled up. I think I have some sort of general world armour that just deflects a lot of crap from me.

    The Yumi thing? Yeah she cracked a joke that some people thought was offensive, so do a thousand stand up comedians. In this case she cracked it in the least ideal of places and she got stung over it. It was obviously not made with malice, her and Negus apologised to the soldier, he accepted their apology and acknowledged that he knew there was no malice there. That's where the issue should have died.

    But it didn't because people like to tell other people what they should be outraged about.

    The Kony thing? I have this thing in my brain that triggers whenever I see something that universally apparently the whole internet is watching and I just ignore it.

    He's a bad dude, I get it, I don't need to watch a 30 minute video to know that, I take the internets word on it.

    I guess it's the same as the Yumi thing, I don't want the internet, or anyone to tell me what I should be angry about.

  4. Ahhh rage. It seems to me that this is more about us as individuals, rather than there being an issue for the world.

    Generally, it is easier to find a target for the "rage" and voice that rage, rather than look within to see why it has caused the buildup.

    For me, rage is a nice way to have a release of the pent up emotion. The release of the rage, allows me to clear some emotional space for the introspection and self examination to understand the "why". This has only come to me over the past decade or so. It makes for less rage, and more focussed action.

    I was initially incensed at the way that Yumi and George treated someone (not just THAT someone) as it was just a cheap shot. I have higher expectations of broadcasters. However, apologies and reparations aside, we ALL have the occasional brain fart.

    I have see the Koni video and part of me needs to check the bona fides of the information before getting swept up in the euphoric wave that has followed it. I can't help wondering if I am being coaxed into the movement by what is sensationally good marketing and manipulation.

    I think I shall think a little more about it before I get involved. There may be a better way to give of my time and effort there.

  5. The one thing that bothers me about these orchestrated outrages is it reminds me of a daily "2 minutes hate".

    I am not going to watch the video I don't think I could take it. Like I haven't been watching the video from Syria.

    I saw something today about dysfunctional families/communities (on The Drum, the nice social worker lady who has seen horrid grief wants to send in the Army to drag the trouble makers out.

    "People are not happy with the status quo. We're sick of the bad guys, we seem to be frustrated that we're in the 21st century but are still waiting for the enlightened Age of Aquarius"
    yes, it would be awesome. But then again some Cruise missiles, bunker busters & commando's could also "do some good" at least prevent more evil.

    To some extent I am torn. But I wouldn't be sad if some of these people met their karma in the street and didn't enjoy the experience.